It’s been 9 long months. Time to birth this baby!
What, exactly, is the Soma Double Cross?
Is it a cyclocross bike?
It’s easily shouldered, the geometry is tight, and the handling is aggressively snappy. The hallmark of a good cyclocross frame, in my opinion, is in how it negotiates terrain above its pay grade, and the Double Cross handles effortlessly; singletrack is not just possible, it’s encouraged. This is a race day bike that really thrives in the time spent riding between race days.
Is it a road bike?
Maybe the new buzzword “All-Road” is more appropriate. With skinny rubber, the frame shows its flavor, soaking up road noise and vibration better than most. ‘Smooth’ is cliche, but it’s almost the only word to use. The Double Cross begs to be ridden all day.
Is it a commuter?
In my opinion, your most fun bike should be the one you commute on. Why waste the transitional period between work and home? The Double Cross has all the durability and reliability demanded by the battlefield of potholes between A and B, but handles it with a certain grace and agility the traditionally overbuilt commuter frames can’t emulate.
The Soma Double Cross Disc served as several different bikes for me. With a simple tire swap or a rack and panniers, the bike transforms itself. Or, rather, maybe it doesn’t. Over the last nine months, it didn’t seem to matter what I pointed the Double Cross at, it was ready for just about anything.
So, without further ado, here’s my 9-month review.
Building Up the Bare Frame
I got my Double Cross in early April of last year, as a bare frame. Soma was nice enough to give me a bit of a discount in exchange for my ongoing feedback and eventual review, but it wasn’t the type of situation where I was testing and returning. This was going to become my bike, the frame that replaced my primary bicycle, my go-to everyday ride.
As soon as it came in, I stripped my old Raleigh and started transferring parts over to the Double Cross. It took about a week to get the new wheels in and get it all built. Note that my front fork is a Salsa Vaya fork, which has almost identical geometry (+/- a millimeter or three), so don’t take anything in this review as a reflection of the stock Soma Double Cross Disc fork, good or bad. I never used it.
The first thing that jumps out is the lightness of the frame, which comes in at just 4.3lbs. My Double Cross, fully built with very un-light components, a steel fork, touring wheels, and alloy bars, stem, and seatpost still comes in under 25lbs. Building with race components and a carbon fork, I would hazard a guess that you’d only gain a pound or two over an equivalent aluminum frame if that, a modest trade-off for the ride quality synonymous with steel. A ~20 lb. build or lighter is definitely possible.
It’s not just any steel, either. Soma uses Tange Prestige double-butted cromo, with variable diameters and thicknesses for each tube, chosen specifically for its role in the overall performance of the frame. It speaks to a quality and tubing selection that you just don’t see very often, now that most “performance” bicycles are made from carbon and aluminum.
The paint is nice, too; I didn’t need to face the head tube or bottom bracket shell before installation (although Soma recommends you do so before installing your headset and BB), and it has kept its gloss over the test period, where it pokes through the carpet of stickers.
As mentioned previously, this bike wore a lot of hats. I used it primarily as my daily rider, taking it all over Western Massachusetts on pleasure rides, missed-my-alarm commutes, grocery runs, and all-day adventures. I almost always rode it fast, hammering through traffic and taking irresponsible lines across my swarming college campus.
The bike is confident through almost everything. It loves standing still in a trackstand as much as it likes hurtling back up to speed during acceleration. It’s extremely maneuverable, and never truly feels out of its element.
To put it a different way, not once was I riding and thought “Man, I shouldn’t have brought my ____ bike.” The Double Cross gets completely out of the way for a great ride with no excuses, no matter where you end up. Dirt, pavement, mud, you name it.
I had the 28mm Gatorskins on most of the time, even though my terrain was always mixed. On more than one occasion, I found myself desperately chasing much more all-terrain bikes with tires twice as wide on the trails that cut through the woods in my town. Singletrack sometimes broke up into no track at all, but the Soma still rolled on.
I did say “almost.” The bike does get a little bit antsy over 35mph. It’s not the most confident descender ever, although pushing forward in the drops and keeping your seat clenched between your knees in an aero tuck keeps the bike from feeling too squirrely. It’s not unstable, it’s just less stable. It’s the only place where the bike didn’t feel like it was thriving. This seems to be typical of most true CX-geometry frames I’ve tried, and if that’s the “cost” for so much maneuverability during the technical riding I’ve been doing, I’ll pay for it.
The bike didn’t love having a basket. I didn’t really notice until I took my hands off the handlebars, but having the weight up high made the steering feel sloppy and unpredictable. This is pretty typical of bikes with a higher trail in the front wheel, and Soma has other frames that are designed to handle a basket and front rack a little nicer. Despite the convenience, I ended up skipping the basket and sticking to my backpack. If you do intend to use this as a touring bike, I would go with a low-rider front rack and mount your panniers close to the ground.
Edit: I mounted a basket on the much lower Soma Lucas rack and the speed shimmy disappeared. Nice!
Function and Versatility
The frame has several key notes that made it easy to build up, easy to adapt to different tasks, and easy to upgrade and edit along the way.
- Tasteful mounts for racks make this touring-ready, though I wouldn’t load up beyond 30-40lbs. It’s a light tourer.
- Standard 1 1/8″ threadless head tube and English-threaded 68mm bottom bracket sizing means this bike is compatible with the lion’s share of component groups, from Shimano XT to Campagnolo.
- Downtube shifter mounts allow every possible combination of shifters to suit whomever. Not using them? You can install a pair of downtube caps with barrel adjusters for quick derailleur trimming instead.
- Full-length housing for both brakes. Definitely makes compressionless housing a must, but it’s worth it for wet weather.
Perhaps the biggest nod to functionality in this frameset is the tire clearance. There’s a lot of clearance atypical of a CX bike, up to 41c in the back and “A Lot” in the front, although Soma’s Cazadero tires fit, too, and that’s a 42c. It’ll take a huge touring tire and fenders, if that’s your thing. The bike is ample.
The Double Cross’ bigger cousin, the Wolverine, takes a slightly larger tire, and I would peg the Double Cross as the more confident road machine of the two. If your riding is a spectrum (and shouldn’t it be?) that tilts slightly more towards dirt roads and pavement than true singletrack, this should be your next bike.
It doesn’t feel empty with 28mm tires, since the slender, narrow-spaced seat stays hold a pretty striking aesthetic no matter what tire you’re running. When you need the room, it’s there. Eventually I threw on touring tires, the Schwalbe Marathon Mondials, and enjoyed the security of being nearly flat-proof.
My next tire is going to be 40c, file tread, and tubeless. Yeehaw.
Fit and Frame Quality
I can’t afford a custom frame, and even if I could, I’m not sure you could convince me that there’s much to be gained over this frame. Because Soma selects the tubing diameters, butting, and thicknesses for each individual section of the frame (and changes the selection according to frame size), the bike feels like it’s custom-built.
This bike is not made in the United States, but it’s not made in China. The framebuilders Soma uses are from Taiwan. They have a close relationship with a select group of framebuilders with years of experience producing hand-crafted, high-end steel frames. Importing is a harmful practice when product quality, human rights, and transparency are sacrificed, but an overseas moniker does not automatically imply any of these. I learned a bit about Soma’s relationship with their framebuilders at my LBS, and judging by the even consistency of the welds, I am confident that this frame is all a hand-built frame can be.
The only difference between this and a custom jawn is the geometry, and Soma offers 11 (!!!) sizes for you to narrow it down, from 42mm to 62mm, plus a 66mm for Clydes and Athenas. Since the fit is pretty straightforward (no abnormally long top tubes, etc) it should be easy for just about anyone in the 99th percentile to get a great fit. Kudos to Soma for thinking about the outliers!
For me, the 58cm was dead-perfect. It was a better fit than all three of my previous bikes. The reach is good enough that I can run a 60mm stem for gnarly offroading and a 120mm stem for faster road-riding, and both work just fine. I have it shown here with a 60mm because I’m trying to stay a bit more upright in the snow, which is helped along by the taller-than-average head tube. Don’t let the pro peloton fool you; there’s nothing wrong with a slightly higher stack height. It keeps your lower back happy when your itinerary includes triple-digit distances.
The disc brakes on this frame don’t feel like an afterthought, even though the geometry between this version and the cantilever version is identical. The mount is placed on the chainstay rather than the seatstay to allow full compliance with most racks, which is a nice touch that cements the “light touring” aspect of the Double Cross a little more firmly. I found the brake was a little challenging to adjust given how close that rear bolt is to the seatstay. It just barely works, but it works.
This is where the Soma falls behind other steel frames, and maybe that’s okay. The steel offerings from most other companies tend to be way overbuilt for the type of riding this bike wants to do. Thicker tubes, struts, reinforcements, and larger diameters make for an indestructible bike, sure, but you lose ride quality, compliance, light weight, and smooth feel. The Soma makes some concessions to the durability gods, and I have one or two good dents to remind me, but it’s intentionally so.
It’s a bike that should be ridden hard, just not irresponsibly. I dented my top tube because I let the bike fall against a bike rack, not because I rode it on the trail. Through normal use, I never had a problem with durability; it was only when I was cramming it onto and into bike storage, trunks, and car racks that I risked harming it. I was glad I had a steel fork for a lot of the moves I pulled, intentionally or not…
I would say, take care of your Soma, and it will take care of you.
That said, the quality feel doesn’t end with the ride. The paint is very even, very rich, and very durable. I have very little scratching and pitting, even in high-wear areas like the bottom bracket. Everything is still shiny, which I don’t deserve after all the abuse I put this bike through. Similarly, that big nickel-sized dent I put in my top tube didn’t get any worse (i.e. the top tube didn’t fold in half!), and the paint didn’t chip, flake, or crack.
So what, exactly, is the Soma Double Cross Disc?
Yes, it’s definitely a cyclocross bike. It’s race-ready and performance-driven from bow to stern.
Yes, it’s a road bike. All-Road, if you will. Other than breakneck high-speed downhill, it excels. It’s most suited to long distance and endurance riding, or as a training bike, or as a road bike for riders who can’t take the harshness of a traditional road frame like they used to for one reason or another.
Yes, it’s a light touring bike. Light. Light. Don’t put four Ortliebs, a handlebar bag, and a rack-top duffel on. I mean, you probably could, but you’d get a little flex in the frame and you might not enjoy the ride as much. I used this bike with loads from 10-20lbs and loved it, and I would/could push a bit more. Check out any of my gear lists at the top of the page for loadouts that are more than Double Cross-friendly.
This bike is all about compromise, and yet, it feels like it doesn’t make any compromises at all. A knife’s edge was walked between each specific use this frame was designed for, and somehow it manages to exist as a perfect venn diagram between almost every discipline of cycling. It doesn’t overcommit you to anything, and if you only used it as a road bike, CX bike, or touring bike for its entire life, I am confident it would perform its duty as good and likely better than any other purpose-built bike in any category currently on the market at this price point.
Bottom line: to do better than the Soma Double Cross Disc, you’d better be ready to spend double or triple the value of this complete bike. It is an absolute steal, compared to the rest of the field. There’s a reason I replaced my mountain bike with a Soma, too, and I am super bummed they came out with the Sandworm a week after I got a fatbike.
Bad Max, no! No bike lusting!
I’m going to try a rating system out, since I’m trying out (and owning) a lot more bikes and have the opportunity to compare things against each other. Here we go:
- Frame Quality: Based on the overall quality of key signifiers like welds, tubing, bosses, dropouts, and paint. 9/10
- Frame Fit: Based on sizing availability, geometry, how ‘normal’ the fit is, and how appropriate the fit is to the intended discipline(s). 10/10
- Durability: Based on how well the frame held up to normal, un-cautious use and neglect. I am not a museum curator, and a bike should not need me to be, to an extent. 7.5/10
- Performance: Based on overall ride quality, agility, comfort, and control. Also considers handling when loaded, if the bike is intended for touring. 9.5/10
- Function: Based on the versatility of the bike within and beyond its intended use, and the inclusion of real-world useful features like bosses. 10/10
Total: 46/50 = A-
(I will be, so stay tuned for the 2-year review!)